The notorious race to uncover the structure of DNA, the molecule of inheritance, began in 1951, when American biologist James Watson arrived at the University of Cambridge. Here he met Francis Crick, an English physicist and the two began building scale models to test their ideas of what DNA’s appearance might be.
Meanwhile, two scientists at King’s College London called Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin were also studying DNA. They were attempting to crystallise the molecule to make an x-ray pattern of it. They hoped this would provide important clues about its structure.
Although the two institutions were effectively competing against each other, Francis Crick (University of Cambridge) and Maurice Wilkins (King’s College London) communicated regularly. Letters sent from Wilkins to Crick reveal their close personal relationship.
It was Rosalind Franklin’s famous x-ray image, nicknamed ‘Photo 51’, that finally revealed the structure of DNA in May 1952. The pattern appeared to contain ‘rungs’, like those on a ladder, set between two strands. The fuzzy “X” pattern indicated DNA’s helix shape. In early 1953, Wilkins showed Watson the image, seemingly without Franklin’s knowledge.
Image by Tim Rudge, PJ Steiner, Fernan Federici, and Jim Haseloff, University of Cambridge
Complex biofilm colonies can have eye-catching morphological features and spatial organization. Image: A three-dimensional confocal stack of a Bacillus subtilis colony growing on agarose. Images were taken at the Haseloff lab within the Department of Plant Sciences.